Rs 3,065 crore. This is how much the Maharashtra government has collected in cess on construction projects in four years to raise funds for welfare of labourers.
Rs 182 crore. The total spending on welfare of construction labourers over the same period, which is not even 6 per cent of the collections.
The government admitted to underutilisation of the fund in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday and identified the reasons as lack of registration of labourers, lack of awareness about the schemes and its own apathy for the current state of affairs.
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Under the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996 (BOCW), one per cent of the total amount of every construction project worth over Rs 10 lakh, whether private or public, must be submitted to the Labour Department as ‘welfare cess’. In Maharashtra, the cost cap was further lowered to Rs 5 lakh and was implemented since 2011. This money can be utilised for various schemes meant for labour welfare such as scholarships for labourers’ children, compensation for families in case of death or physical handicap, low-cost housing, among others.
But even as Maharashtra has an estimated 55 lakh labourers, Labour Welfare Minister Prakash Mehta admitted in the state Legislative Assembly that only 3 lakh labourers had been enrolled to avail benefits under these welfare schemes.
For a labourer to get registered for these benefits, he must produce a certificate stating that he had worked with a contractor/builder for a minimum of 90 days. The Act also requires the contractor/builder to submit the work order for the projects where the applying labourer was employed.
Legislators from both the ruling and the opposition parties, however, complained that this condition itself presented a roadblock for registration of labourers. “Most of the labourers are employed on a day- to-day basis. Many of them work at one construction site one day, then work with someone else the next day. The contractors often refuse to provide the 90-day employment certificate. The government also demands a work order from contractors, which is not present in several cases,” BJP’s Sunil Deshmukh said, during discussion on a calling attention motion.
Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan further said that the Centre’s Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, requires governments to form state-level social security boards for granting identification cards to all labourers.
Replying to the discussion, Mehta announced that the government would embark on a six-month special drive beginning August 9 to enrol labourers and other unorganised workers.
For the construction industry, the government announced that it would make it mandatory for all contractors involved in a project to enrol with them and provide details of workers engaged in the project.
Replying to a query raised by Congress’s Vijay Waddettiwar, Mehta also declared the government’s plans to extend welfare benefits to farm workers by including this segment of workers in the unorganised category.